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Willow Hill School to celebrate anniversary
Celebration set for Saturday
WillowHill-Clarissa Clifton Lynch
Open-hearth cooking expert Clarissa Clifton, seen in this publicity photo, will give demonstrations of 19th century cooking at the Willow Hill site during Saturday's 140th anniversary celebration. - photo by Special

The Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center will celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Willow Hill School and 60th anniversary of the existing building with activities beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday.
    African-Americans nine years out of slavery founded a school for their children at the rural site near Portal in 1874. The current building dates from 1954, the year the Supreme Court in its Brown v. Board of Education decision struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine used to support segregation.
    Southern states responded to the approaching end of segregation with a flurry of construction of new schools for African-American children, in a belated attempt to “equalize” white and black schools. A state historical marker being unveiled at 9 a.m. Saturday recognizes Willow Hill as a prime example of an equalization school. A prayer breakfast and other activities will follow, beginning at 10 a.m.
    “This year is such an important milestone in the history of Willow Hill as we celebrate so many victories and reflect on the sacrifices that many have made to bring us to this moment in time,” Dr. Alvin Jackson, the president of the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center.
    “As we look back on our heritage and reflect on the past 140 years, from Reconstruction to Plessy v. Ferguson to Brown vs. Board of Education to integration, we see a true American story of struggle survival and success in the lives of the people of the Willow Hill Community,” he said.
    For the past three years, the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center, launched by descendants of the school’s founding families, has held a Labor Day weekend festival, while developing the former school as both a community center and a museum. By local initiative, a historical marker recognizing the Willow Hill community and its school was erected in 2011, pointing the way from U.S. Highway 80.
    But the new Georgia Historical Marker to be dedicated at the site at 9 a.m. Saturday has been awarded by the Georgia Historical Society with funding from the Georgia Natural Resources Foundation.
    Jeanne Cyriaque, coordinator of African-American history programs in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Historic Preservation Division, will be keynote speaker for the dedication ceremony. Cyriaque, also editor of Reflections magazine of the Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network, is spearheading efforts to preserve and identify equalization schools around the state.
    Elder Donald Chavers Jr., pastor of Agape Worship Center in Statesboro, will be the featured speaker for the 2014 Willow Hill Prayer Breakfast beginning at 10 a.m. in the Willow Hill cafeteria. A $15 donation is requested, with proceeds going to support the Willow Hill Center’s work. To purchase tickets online, visit A limited number of tickets will be sold at the door.
    Slated for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Clarissa Clifton, a living-history interpreter and open-hearth cooking expert, will demonstrate 19th-century cooking in an open pit on the grounds. Her demonstration is titled “Southern Food, Southern Culture: Evolution of Cornbread.”
    The Willow Hill Center’s museum rooms, with exhibits on historic African-American schools and Primitive Baptist churches, will be open to visitors Saturday. Volunteers will also record oral history narratives to add to the extensive collection the center has created and maintains in cooperation with Georgia Southern University.
    Another event sponsored by the Willow Hill Center, the drama concert “Defining Destiny,” featuring international singer-actress Sandra Reaves Phillips and directed by 2013 Georgia Theater Hall of Fame inductee Mical Whitaker, will be held Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Statesboro High School Auditorium.
    Concert tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and $10 for groups of 10 or more. Proceeds will go to the Leadership Education Arts Program, or LEAP, for after-school and summer programs for local youth.

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